John Rhodes will be in a unique position this spring. It’s a situation he could have never envisioned when he first arrived on campus at the University of Kentucky in 2019.
Rhodes figured he would spend three years in college before entertaining professional interest in 2022. But after MLB moved the 2021 MLB draft from June to July, that mindset changed.
Rhodes is now eligible for this year’s draft, as he meets MLB’s draft requirements. College baseball players who turn 21 years old within 45 days of the draft are eligible. His birthday is Aug. 15, which is before the Aug. 27 cutoff date.
The second-year outfielder will be eligible in each of the next four drafts. He also has four years of college eligibility remaining, after the NCAA granted all college baseball players an extra year due to last season’s premature ending.
Rhodes has flexibility and tons of draft leverage. But he knows he needs to build off last year’s noteworthy season this spring to remain a desirable draft prospect in 2021. Scouts project Rhodes as an early-round prospect for this year’s draft.
“I was in accounting, and my advisor called and told me I was eligible for the draft,” Rhodes said. “That kind of turned everything up a notch for me. It made me a lot more focused on what could happen in the future. It is a unique opportunity for me, and I am in a win-win situation. If the opportunity is there at the end of the year, perfect. If it’s not, great, I can come back and be a sophomore next year.”
Last spring, Rhodes hit .426 with 10 doubles, one triple, one home run and 19 RBIs in 61 at-bats in 17 games. He struck out five times while drawing two walks. Defensively, Rhodes started at third base before moving to left field.
He continued his success in the Northwoods League last summer. He batted .378 with seven doubles, one home run and 20 RBIs in 27 games.
Rhodes is a 6-foot, 200-pound right-handed hitter who consistently makes hard contact and drives the ball to the gaps. Overall, he has a well-balanced toolset in all facets of the game.
In the offseason, Rhodes refined his stance and swing. He moved the weight in his stance from the balls of his feet to the heels of his feet. The change should allow him to drive through the ball instead of “pushing” the ball. It also will allow him to have better success hitting breaking pitches, he believes.
During his first year at Kentucky, Rhodes showed an ability to jump on fastballs early in counts. He also had confidence and the proper mindset. He hopes those attributes will carry over to this season.
“I think my hit tool is the strongest point in my game,” Rhodes said. “I think hitters hit. My knock has been that my run times haven’t been as good as they could be, and my power isn’t anything crazy right now. But those I can develop. I think it’s important that I am a good hitter.”
Rhodes feels his offensive adjustments will allow him to show more in-game power this season.
“I want my power numbers to go up a little bit,” Rhodes said. “I hit a lot of doubles, but obviously, you want to hit more home runs. But I still want to hit for average, and I hate striking out. If my average stays high and my power isn’t necessarily where I want it to be, then that’s fine. I do want to hit for more power this year, though. That’s the goal.”
Defensively, Rhodes is extremely versatile but profiles as a right fielder in pro ball due to his arm strength and athleticism. He played seven positions in the fall of his freshman year and four positions this past fall, he said. This spring, Rhodes will likely see time at right field, center field and first base.
This season will be critical in determining Rhodes’ draft position. Scouts are curious to see how he performs against Southeastern Conference pitching for the first time in his career. If he can succeed, his draft stock will increase.
Despite the personal implications this season will have on his future, Rhodes remains focused on Kentucky’s success. He is a team-first player who hopes to lead the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2017.
“I wish I could say I have a ton of personal goals, but I don’t necessarily set too many of them,” Rhodes said. “The only emphasis I have really is to try to hit the ball hard. I just want to win.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.